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Aside from getting to see a piece of Korean culture and tradition, another reason to go see the local festivals is that they only happen once a year. And if you’re only there for a year, you basically only get one chance to see them. Obviously. Luckily, since I stayed for year and a half, I got to see the Lotus Lantern Festival twice. This is probably my second favorite Korean festival after Mud Fest. Naturally (seriously, go to Mud Fest if you can!).
I wish this time around, I had also been able to go to some of the other, smaller festivals that celebrate Buddha’s birthday and lead up to the lantern festival. Unfortunately, this time around I was also quite busy, and therefore I wasn’t able to help continue the AWESOME scavenger hunt from the year before. But at least I got to see the lanterns again. A bunch of (wise) co-workers went too.
Last time around, I had tried to take pictures which failed miserably. This time I took videos. MUCH more successful. So if you go to this festival, record it with videos.
One funny thing happened at the festival. I was standing up against the barrier between the onlookers and the parade. Next to me was a family who spoke French. The daughter was sitting up close to the barrier and, being a cute foreign child, a woman in the parade came by and gave her a lantern and everyone was delighted. Not sure what to do with it, she gave it to her parents who were sitting behind her and they put it on the floor. So then another woman gave her another lantern and she passed that back to her parents who put it down. Then the girl was given a pikachu lantern (which I have to admit was super cool). This continued until everyone in her family, which was about six or seven people, had a lantern. It was cute the first couple of times but… there were other people who wanted lanterns (like me!). Share your lanterns, French-speaking people.
Anyway, lanterns are pretty cool souvenirs to get from Korean, but difficult to take home as they are made of paper. I had gotten a lantern from an AMAZING Tibetan restaurant in Dongdaemuncalled Everest and only managed to get it home because it could be folded up. And even then, it still got a tear on one of the paper panes.
On October 8th, I started this blog entry and for whatever reason haven’t gotten around to finishing it until today. Clearly I need to be more timely with my blog posts. I always sit down with the best intentions of pumping out an entry but then don’t actually finish it until waaaaaay later than I should. In all fairness, I have (or had for the first few days) a small excuse for posting late since I was sick around October 8th. Nothing serious but definitely blog-hampering.
Anyway, from September 24th (the day after Chuseok) to October 3, Andong, South Korea was celebrating its cultural heritage via the Mask Dance Festival. I learned about this festival before I came over here (see my December 9th entry) and of course had to go see it. Originally I planned to go on September 25th and 26th, but couldn’t because on the 25th I had to make up classes that had been cancelled due to Chuseok. So October 2nd and 3rd were the last days I could go see it – visiting on a weekday were out of the question.
Originally I also planned to go with a reasonably sized group and stay at one of the traditional Korean style inns that are in the area, but the group didn’t pan out. Which meant that I’d be jjimjilbang-ing it. Or at least at 6am, when I went out to catch the bus to take me into Seoul to catch another bus to take me all the way to Andong, that’s what I had been planning but I ended up being so exhausted by the end of the day that I just caught the midnight bus back to Seoul and called it a weekend. Which is kind of cool when you think about how I basically made a day trip going to almost the other side of the country.
Anyway, spending the day in Andong was fun. The vibe was very different than Seoul, obviously. I ended up seeing a couple of mask performances (and one day when I figure out how to post my videos on this blog, I will put them up here) and visiting the Folk Village. At the Folk Village, there were several shops selling tourist souvenirs, including tha traditional Hahoe masks. Now, you can find the Hahoe masks all over Korea but I really wanted to get a handmade one. Maybe they’re all handmade, maybe they’re mass produced, it’s hard to tell when they’re hanging in a store, even at the Folk Village. But then, just as it was starting to rain and I was leaving the Folk Village, I noticed a little shop where two women were working with woodworking equipment and selling the masks they were making. Yay! So I bought one of the masks at at pretty good price – hand-made (although I didn’t see her making my particular mask, unfortunately) and cheaper than I’ve seen elsewhere. And it has its own unique design, within the cultural norm for its character, and imperfections.
The mask I bought was the 양반 탈 (yangban t’al) or Aristocrat mask, which is not only my favorite of the 9 archtype masks but it seems everyone else’s as well. The Aristocrat mask is the one you see on all the advertisements and the one that is most on sale. Each of the masks represents a different character, with their own personality and dancing style, and it seems the Aristocrat’s is the best – or at least only one that’s not clearly negative.
I got this from the Hahoe Mask Museum:
“Yangban T’al is viewed as the masterpiece best representing the aesthetic value among Hahoe masks. Its expression is generally gentle, mixed with bombastic and leisurely expressions, just as goes the saying; “Yangban picks his teeth, even when he drinks water”. The separarte chin with a hanging string makes firm the mouth when drooping the head, and thus changes himself into an angry face. Dancing form: Yangban‘s swaggering steps.”
And for your enjoyment, here are some more photos:
Mudfest takes place at Daecheon beach, so it’s a combination giant mud party and beach party for two weeks – what more could any one ask for? The mud in question is ‘beauty mud’, like the kind they use for facials, so it leaves you skin smooth. Anyway, we hopped onto the bus and… it started to rain. A LOT. By 10:30am, when we actually got to Boryeong, it was pouring so we mostly mucked around ’til the (acutally kind of chilly) rain stopped.
At 2pm on Saturday, we had to come back and check into our rooms. Even though Quinn and I paid for a 9-15 person room, we were assigned a (cheaper) 5-9 person room, with only three other people. Sweet. And when we went to check in, we discovered that the other three people were no where to be found. Also, sweet. And they were still no where to be found after taking what-ended-up-being an hour napped. In the end, we had roommates (which would come in handy later) but they didn’t show up for several more hours. After a much deserved nap, we were off for some fun!
While the beach certainly wasn’t amusement park size, there was still a good amount to do. Inflatable slides and mud ‘rides’, for lack of a better word, were set up along the beach. There were a couple of stages for performances. Beside one of the stages, there were permanent beach theme art figures set up, that at night we discovered glowed, and were a favorite photo-op site. At the end of this, there was what looked like a little paint ball war zone area (look at me – one day of paint ball and suddenly I’m throwing around words like ‘paintball warzone’) where people could literally cover themselves from head to toe in the mud. Which is exactly what we did. Unfortunately, there was a huge mud fight going on there, which was starting to turn ugly by the time we arrived. That is to say, people were throwing rocks and not mud. Very much not cool. That area was quickly shut down for the rest of the festival.
After that, we mostly wandered. There were mud wrestling pits (that this little person was not brave enough to enter) and this one inflatible ‘ride’ (again, for lack of a better word) where you were strapped into a bungee harness on one side of an alley and a friend was strapped into a harness on the other end. Then you had to run to the center and ring the bell hanging between the two ends. Fairly hard and shockingly fun. I did it first against Quinn when it was early in the festival and the bungee was not so muddy (and therefore still bungee-able) and we did pretty well. Later I did it again against Vy. Still fun but total fail. The bungee was so covered in stiffening mud that we couldn’t get close enough to the bell and both of us are short so we couldn’t reach it from a distance.
After that ‘ride’, Quinn and I did one stupid thing each. Let me start with Quinn’s stupid thing. Every time we got covered in mud we would eventually wander over to the beach and wash it off. On our first beach-going adventure, we were with a group of friends and weren’t really paying attention to what we were doing. So Quinn sees the water and launches himself towards it – forgetting that his phone is in his pocket. Yeah… it led a brave life but the little phone didn’t make it. Now, luckily I was smart enough to take my phone out of my pocket and leave it on the beach, away from the waves and wrapped in my poncho. Not that it did me any good because the battery was dead. So I brought it to a convenience store to get charged (paying a cool 1,000won for the service) and when I picked it up later, I put it in my pocket. And then I went on the giant mud slide, forgetting the phone was in my pocket because I hadn’t had it for a while. Yeah… it died too, choking up mud all the way.
Luckily, they were old used phones that we didn’t really pay much for so it wasn’t a HUGE loss. But it did mean that we were without phones and a way to get in touch with people to hang-out for the rest of the weekend. A sad thought when one of the big reasons everyone was going to MudFest was to see everyone else. Without phones, again we wandered.
One of the coolest things at the festival was this tent were you could get painted in colored mud. COLORED MUD! I was really gung-ho about getting the KoreanTaeguki on my face. I had seen a Korean woman walking around with it and it looked pretty cool. Unfortunately, when I went to get the blue on my face, everyone else was getting blue-d up like Avatar characters. And when I told the woman – in Korean no less! – she painted me like a Na’vi. Boo!
So I got in the red line, stole a red paintbrush (everyone was doing it!) and had Quinn paint the red taeguk onmy face. It wasn’t 100% correct, but it still looked pretty cool. Quinn ended up getting his face painted blue and then we grabbed a yellow paint brush so I could put a stripe across his eyes. Unfortunately… I ended up getting yellow paint on his contact lenses. Random observation: eyes that are painted over with yellow paint are really, really freaky. Once he washed the paint out, he looked like an Avatar character too.
Once properly painted, we managed to run into some of our training friends and luckily (thanks to borrow the phones of our roommates when they finally showed up) we were able to stay in touch with them for the rest of the evening, which ended up being pretty low key and chill. Ending with us hanging out on the beach, watching fireworks and doing cartwheels.
On to Sunday! Sunday was also pretty low key and chill. Quinn, Vy and I made a point to hang-out together since we didn’t see each other at all on Saturday. This was a day mostly reserved for playing on the beach and once we got bored with that we went up and sat in the shade of the trees and watched the surf.
We didn’t get very muddy on Sunday, with one notable exception. While we were in the shade of the trees, I realized that my clothes were really sandy and the sand kind of hurt. There was a huge art sculpture behind us and since we didn’t know where the bathroom’s were, Vy offered to keep watch while I ducked behind the art sculpture and tried to get the sand out of my clothes. There were construction workers off to the side who kind of watched us as we walked into the art sculpture… apparently not noticing here the ground was distinctly different.
Because it was made of quick sand. Or quick mud. It was this thick, red clay-mud hybrid that was obvious not beauty mud and not good for your skin. We walked a few steps into the sculpture and got stuck. I tried to get my feet out of my sandals and lost my balance, letting my feet fall back into the mud. And without sandals to stop them, my legs sunk into the mud up to my knees. Now, Quinn had the opportunity to be a chivalrous gentleman and come help us poor stuck ladies but he did not, opting to stay back and laugh. BOO! We had to pry ourselves out and then go find that illusive bathroom, so I could wash the red off my legs.
After that, it was pretty much time to go home. You’d think the weekend would end there but it did not! Vy decided to go to Gangnam with some friends but Quinn and I were beat so we asked if the bus could drop us off in Suwon instead of taking us to Seoul. Coincidently, our roommates, who were on the same bus as us, also lived in Suwon and since the bus had to drive through Suwon to get to Seoul, we figured they wouldn’t mind.
However, as it turned out… they did not drop us off in Suwon. Basically at the first ‘Suwon’ sign the bus driver saw on the highway, he pulled over and let us off. We ended up in Singal, which is not Suwon but somewhat close. But now that we are savvy travelers who can read Korean, it wasn’t too hard to find the right bus to get back to Yeongtong. Following this ordeal, we hit up a jjimjilbang and soaked out our soreness. A relaxing end to a real adventure of a weekend.
This past weekend was my first Adventure Korea trip: a weekend of mountain hiking and butterfly watching – highly appropriate for the weekend after Earth Day. On Saturday, I woke up at the wee hours of 6:30am to catch the bus to Gangnam, to then catch the tour bus to Mt. Gangcheon. It was a four-ish hour ride down and I napped most of the way.
On a side note, Korea has some interesting rest stops. One that we stopped at had a generously sized garden in the women’s room, while another one had trailers that had been made into bathrooms. As in the kind of trailers that can be driven away. O_O
We hiked Mt. Gangcheon for about four hours and most of the time I was actually doing really well. There’s was a thirty to forty minute period where we were basically going straight up the mountain via stairs and rock that was pretty much kicking everyone’s butts but after that the adrenaline, endorphins and whatnot kicked in and we start booking. The view from the top was fantastic. Enjoy some photos:
On another side note, there were a lot of Koreans hiking too and most of them were older and clearly in better shape than all us huffing and puffing foreigners. We were told later that this particular hike would be considered easy to Koreans… Again: O_O.
The climb down was much, much easier, partially because the path was better. Why couldn’t we have climbed up that way?! Halfway down, we ran into a building where a family practices an “ancient, Korean form of martial arts” (I was not told the name… the granddaddy of Taekwondo?) and they preformed for us. Very cool.
We ended the hike at a hot springs and stay there for about an hour before moving on to a galbi restaurant. It was good, but all the galbi I’ve had in Suwon is far superior. As it should be, since Suwon is known for its galbi.
Speaking of Suwon, there were about eight other people from Suwon on this trip. Most of them teach at other hakwons, however one of them is an April teacher in Dongtan.
On Sunday, we headed out to Hampyeong for the Butterfly Festival (함평나비대축제). Oh the things we did there. We toured a greenhouse where we released butterflies (while being filmed by a group trying to promote tourism in Korea). We caught rabbits and chickens. I caught a chicken (as a rabbit owner, I didn’t need to go chasing after a rabbit on my vacation) and for it won a bag of special Hampyeong butterfly rice. I do not know how different it is from real rice but eventually I’ll pop it into my rice cooker and find out. Originally we were supposed to catch baby wild boar but hoof and mouth disease is going around, so… we did not catch any hoofed animals.
After that, we ate some barley and peas that had been roasted on a fire in a hole in the ground. Very tasty. And as if that weren’t enough – we got to catch mudfish! Most people would not put an exclimation point at the end of that sentence, but I had a lot of fun. We wadded into a small pond and sifted through nice and thick much to find the eely little fishies while little kids (and those videographers that had been filming us) followed us around.
As it turns out, I’m a pretty good mudfisher. Everyone else was having a hard time finding and catching them and the people running the mudfish pond were having to throw more in to increase their chancing of catch them… But the big problem was they were shouting, carrying on and flailing about – you know, letting the mudfish know where they were. I however entered a zen-like trance and was able to catch two or three of them before anyone else caught one. At one point, I had one mudfish in my hand and I could feel one under my foot so I told one of the other girls on the trip about it. She caught that one and I felt ANOTHER mudfish under my foot. So with my free hand, I reached down and pulled that one out too with no struggle. You read that right: No. Struggle. I am the mudfishing master. Right after that, the camera people asked to interview me about my mudfishing experience. Its suppose to air with the other footage they tood on Friday at 7am, 10am and 7pm. But I don’t know on what channel…
Following the mudfishing, we broke off and explored the festival for another two hours before heading home. I went with another adventurer to hike up a hill where they had golden bats, but sadly we went up the wrong hill and by the time we realized the mistake it was time to go. But again, the view was beautiful.
Enjoy some butterfly festival pictures:
Speaking of colors…
Next weekend, I have a Chungdahm company picnic to look forward to and the following weekend, I’ll be on Adventure Korea’s Caving and Ferrying trip on Saturday along with some of the training gang. April is a busy month for me.
Yesterday, all the CDI teachers met up to talk about student withdrawals. This term coincides with middle school exams. I don’t know all the details about these but they take two weeks to end and a lot of students leave English privates schools because of them. Most come back afterwards but in the meantime, our student numbers drop.
In the meeting, we talked about the reasons for student withdrawals and what we can do to make classes more fun. The three big reasons: boring lesson topics, difficult lessons, classroom management. There’s nothing we can do about changing the lesson material. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that we can do about classroom management too, because it’s such a broad category of complaints that it also includes stuff us teachers have no control over.
The other thing that was brought up in the meeting was cancelled class. Some of the middle school classes in the up-coming weeks are cancelled because so many students won’t be attending. I have three cancelled classes over two weeks, which is actually the smallest number of cancelled classes for a teacher (Yay!). And because a teacher will be leaving tomorrow, I might be taking over one of this classes for two weeks so really I’m only loosing one class.
Two teachers had a ridiculous number of cancelled classes. I can’t remember the exact number but it’s over eight classes (which is a week of classes). It might be nice if they were all in one week so those teachers could have a nice week of vacation but I’m sure those classes are spread out over two or three weeks.
And that’s the business news in Suwon. Now for the leisure news.
About a week ago, one of my training buddies sent out a message to all of us training buddies who still hang-out regularly about a caving and ferrying ride trip put together by Adventure Korea. And after surfing around and looking at their other trips, I found a two day trip to the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival at the end of of April – which I was really excited about. I had already been planning on going but couldn’t figure out how so Adventure Korea has taken out pretty much any planning I need to do. I just need to pay for the trip (which I’ve done) and show up at the Express Bus Terminal in Seoul at 8am, which is early but that’s okay. I can sleep on the 2 hour bus ride to Hampyeong.
So now I have two trips in April and May to look forward to taking (and later blogging about, of course). The May trip I’m going on with the training gang but the April one it looks like I’ll be braving alone – or rather with the rest of the people who RSVPed who I don’t know – because I couldn’t convince anyone to go to the Butterfly Festival. Quinn and Derrika were excited about it, until they saw the itinerary involved 4 hours of hiking. Babies.
Today, I woke up at the early hour of 10 am (early considering today is possibly my only day off of this year – which meant I’d have to take advantage of it) and set out for the 5100 bus to Gangnam. I decided to go to Namsangol Hanok Village because that had specific activities for the New Year, whereas the Korean Folk Village, as far as I could tell, did not.
I was suppose to go with Quinn, who spent Saturday night in Seoul and came back Sunday night, but he didn’t answer his phone. Half-way to Gangnam, I got a call from Quinn. Apparently, he ended up staying Sunday night in Seoul too so we decided to meet up at the Village.
Namsangol Hanok Village is just outside the Chungmuro subway station (that’s the cool subway station – although not literally; it’s well heated). Before the Village were a bunch of street stalls selling kites and food and Quinn and I finally bought some street food: meat-on-a-stick. Verdict: delicious.
The Village was definitely a worth while trip. At the entrance there’s a little village made up of buildings that used to be elsewhere in Seoul but have been moved to the Village for preservation. In one of the buildings, you can make a reservation to learn how to wear a hanbok, but it was far too cold for that today. For Lunar New Year, they had musical performances in the Court and arts and crafts projects around it.
Before I get to the arts and crafts, let me also touch on the Time Capsule. Towards the back of the Village, there’s an area that houses the Time Capsule that Seoul buried in 1994. They plan to open it again in 2394 and when I read that I thought “Oh cool, I’ll come back to see that – oh wait… No… I won’t…”. There was a display talking about the different things they put in the Time Capsule(600 items! miniatures and CDs!), which included a plan for what they hope the future will be like. Pretty cool.
Also, the stone that covered the Time Capsule had quotes from different heads of states. However, the representative from the United States was not the president but… the governor of Honolulu. Whaaa?
And back to the arts and crafts! We bought tickets to make a traditional Korean kite (or as the Engrish sign said ‘a traditional kit’) and eat the traditional Korean ‘party’ food. I’m not entirely sure what they meant by ‘party’ food but I think they may have meant ‘festival’ food. The kite making was fun but it was extremely cold by the time we got a spot on the crafts table to make ours and I had to glue everything together with my (freezing cold to the point of numbness) bare hands. BUT! My kite came out magnificently. Then we ate.
The food ticket got us what I thought would be sweet porridge and a Korean pancake. It was not sweet porridge; it was Makgeolli (막걸리 – rice wine), and even though its a Korean tradition, neither Quinn nor I cared for it. The pancake was a seafood (해물파전 –haemul pajeon) complete with tentacles but I was too hungry and cold to really care about how I don’t like seafood, let alone tentacles.
After eating, we watched a really cool drumming and dance performance but sadly I still can’t get WordPress to accept my videos so we’ll just have to wait on that for a little while.
All in all, it was a very nice trip. Now sit back and enjoy some pictures!
Woo! Two holidays in one!
First of all, the holiday you’re all probably familiar with: Valentine’s Day (밸런타인데이 – literally ‘Valentine’s Day’). They do celebrate Valentine’s Day here in South Korea – and in fact some of my students asked me if I would be giving them chocolate in celebration… Oops. I actually would have given them chocolate and maybe even made them little cards but… it did not occur to me… But the last week of term is coming up so I might be buying mygood classes pizza. You read that right: my GOOD classes. The students in my 4pm Thursday Bridge Listening class said that on week 13 we’ll have a pizza party (as if it was mandatory, which it’s not); they are not getting pizza, but that’s another story.
To get back to Valentine’s Day, the holiday works a little differently here than in the US. On Valentine’s Day, girls give guys chocolates, present, etc. On March 14th, Koreans (as well as the Japanese and Taiwanese) celebrate White Day (화 이 트 데 이 – literally pronounced ‘white day’), when its the guys turn to give girls chocolates, presents, etc. White Day was started in Japan as an ‘answer day’ to Valentine’s Day, with men expected to give nicer gifts to the girls who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day.
Holiday number two, in our holiday double-feature, is Lunar New Year (음력설날 – eum-nyeok seol-lal). Lunar New Year is supposed to be one of the big holidays in Korea, lasting three days, and people spend it visiting their families. On Friday my students asked me if I would be going home to the United States. Nope, kiddos. Teacher doesn’t have that kind of time or money (even though Friday was also Pay Day). Instead I spent the first day of Lunar New Year having out with the Training Gang in Seoul because two of us were celebrating birthdays this week. Here’s are the two main things we did that day:
- First thing, we visited Bau House, a dog cafe, and got delicious chocolate milk shakes. Now you’re probably wondering, what’s a dog cafe? No, it is not where people eat dogs (although they do eat dog soup here). It is where people dine with dogs. Yes. Dogs. Once you get used to the smell, it’s delightful. Basically the owners’ dogs run around the tables/on the tables/under the tables and chill out with you. People can also board their dogs there for the day. And foreign English teachers can visit when they miss their dogs and want something to cuddle with.
- After getting dinner and chilling out for a while, we went salsa dancing. Except it turn out it was line dancing. Except that turned out to be swing dancing. But there was dancing. The problem was… we didn’t really know how to swing dance. Some of us did, but for the most part we were all rookies. But it was still a lot of fun. And I got a bunch of free oranges from the place.
(Eventually a video of sweet, sweet swing dancing will go here, but I have to figure out how to get the video into a blog appropriate format first…)
Although Saturday was fun, I am a little bummed that the stuff I had been looking into doing (going to Jeju island for the Fire Festival or actually doing something festive for Lunar New Year) didn’t pan out… I was really interested in going to see the Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul, which is supposed to put on traditional performances for the holiday but I couldn’t convince the others to go. Unfortunately the performances are only the 14th and 15th, but cultural activities continue until the 16th.
Oh I almost forgot, Mr. Yun who runs the Suwon Yeongtong (where I worked) and Hwaseong Dongtan (where I was supposed to work) branches of Chung Dahm Learning bought all the teachers gift sets for Lunar New Year. A lot of the teachers were hoping that inside the boxes would be food but there was no food to be found. Instead, there was soap, toothpaste and shampoo (… what is Mr. Yun trying to tell us?). I was actually happy about that and since one of the other teachers didn’t need to supplies and gave me his gift set, I now have eight 180g bottles of shampoo, six bars of soap (avocado, tea tree oil and rose soap) and 12 tubes of toothpaste (various mint flavors). Which basically means I won’t have to go shopping for those things for a really long time. 감 사 합 니 다, Mr. Yun!
I just finished watching Fantastic Festivals of the World‘s show on South Korea’s Mask Dance Festival, which is in the Hahoe Folk Village in Andong. The festival is a celebration of culture in Andong, especially their famous Hahoe masks. The narrator ended the report on an interesting note, saying that legend says you must see a mask dance at least once in your life before you die or you cannot get into heaven. And I immediately thought of the 1,000 Places to Go Before You Die book (from yesterday’s post), which did NOT include this festival anywhere. Hmmm, it seems to me if you have to see this to get into heaven, it ought to be one of the places you go to before you die, eh?
2010’s Mask Dance Festival is 9/24-10/3. I think I might try to use my vacation time to go see this because the festival and the Folk Village look really neat.